Elon Musk is one of the most influential personalities on social media.
The billionaire CEO of Tesla (TSLA) has understood that it is on these platforms that trends are made today and opinions are formed.
For a large section of consumers and people, social networks are even the main source of information. It is therefore no surprise that Musk, who is often called the meme CEO, himself interacts daily with users on Twitter, his favorite communication channel where he regularly makes announcements about the products and services of his companies – Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company and Neuralink.
The microblogging website thus provides him with free advertising, especially since Musk has 107 million followers there. Like him, many companies are regularly using social networks to reach new consumers, expand their customer base and retain existing customers at a time when our daily lives are driven by tech.
But if social networks provide significant exposure because a video can go viral, there are also many risks for brand image.
One of these risks is when advertising promoting a company’s products or services is placed alongside inappropriate and highly sensitive content. This often gives the impression that the brand is attached to or supports the content in question.
Ads and Child Sex Abuse
To avoid confusion, companies often find themselves forced to remove their ads from platforms whose moderation policies are deemed lax. Such a decision translates into less revenue for the platforms in question whose economic model is based mainly on revenue generated by advertising.
This is what just happened to Twitter (TWTR) which placed marketing campaigns from vehicle manufacturer Mazda, Dyson and chemicals company Ecolab (ECL) alongside tweets soliciting child pornography.
“We’re horrified,” David Maddocks, brand president at shoe maker Cole Haan, told Reuters after the news outlet notified him that the company’s ads appeared next to a tweet in which the author said ” trading teen/child.”
More than 30 brands ranging from Walt Disney (DIS) to Coca-Cola (KO) to NBCUniversal (CMCSA) have ads that appear on Twitter account pages with content promoting child pornography, says Reuters who reviewed the findings of a study cybersecurity firm Ghost Data on online child sex abuse.
“Extremely concerning,” commented Musk, 51, father of nine.
It’s important to note that the billionaire is currently in a legal battle with Twitter after he abruptly withdrew his offer to acquire the platform for $44 billion.
“We are working closely with our clients and partners to investigate the situation and take the appropriate steps to prevent this from happening in the future,” a Twitter Spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “In addition to the ongoing work being done to better detect and suspend accounts posting CSE [child sexual exploitation] material, we are working with our product teams to ensure we have the right models, processes and products in place to help keep everyone who uses Twitter safe – people and brands alike.”
The company said in its Transparency Reports published last July that it has “suspended 596,997 unique accounts during this reporting period – a 32% increase since our previous report.”
The reports covers July-December 2021.
New Revelations Underway?
Aware of the seriousness of Reuters’ revelations, Twitter sent an email to advertisers as a form of damage control before the article was published.
In the email, the company said it “discovered that ads were running within profiles that were involved with publicly selling or soliciting child sexual abuse material.”
“We were able to identify over 500 active Twitter accounts that openly shared or requested child pornography material in a period spanning from September 1st to September 20,” Ghost Data said in its report that you can read here. “These 500 accounts produced more than 10,000 tweets, almost half about to trading of illicit material.”
“These accounts accumulated over 2,000 unique followers. At least several of these followers, even if they do not show any public activities, are likely involved in illicit trade of child porn material,” the firm added.
Twitter suspended only 27.5% of the users that publicly shared child pornography links, material, and references in the first 20 days of September, Ghost Data said.
“To date, still, more than 400 users are active after « the purge. Many of these users have been active for months.”
Andrea Stroppa, one of the researchers behind the study, promised new revelations in the coming days.
“More news soon. Stay tuned $TWTR,” he wrote on Sept.29.
“We consistently invest in resources to provide advertisers with products and tools to meet their brand suitability needs, including providing the ability to opt-out of placement in search and profiles entirely as an additional layer of control and risk mitigation,” Twitter spokesperson said.